I googled an article I’d written (to reference it for something else) and found my work plagiarised.
A disability organisation plagiarised my article. This is the second disability organisation in two weeks to steal that article (it was the article about disability and fashion) – and the third time a disability organisation has taken my work. (And it’s happened to my friends too.) While there was a link to Daily Life below the text, there was no link to my blog and the format of the article made it look like I had written for that organisation.
Generally my editor takes care of plagiarism but this time I called the organisation. The organisation was surprised to hear from me and the woman on the phone didn’t know what to say.
I told the woman that by taking my work without permission or proper credit or payment, it’s devaluing my writing. It’s devaluing the disability community.
I said that I spend many hours writing quality work outside of my day job (most unpaid) and while I love my work being shared, I don’t love it being shared inappropriately and not being compensated for it. And I added that if this is happening with my writing, I’m sure it’s happening to other writers.
I talked about copyright law and suggested that if the organisation wants to link back to articles they like, they include a short quote from it with a clear link to the original source.
The woman was very apologetic (she didn’t know this was happening and thought they complied with copyright law well) and will review all website content and remove my article. She said the plagiarism goes against everything the organisation stands for. And she was incredibly embarrassed. (She also told me she is an avid follower of my work and said she was a little ‘starstruck’ to hear from me in person!)
I understand in all cases the intent was not malicious but generous. The intent was to share with its members and the disability community, and to increase accessibility of the articles. That’s great – but I’d hope original content is shared within copyright guidelines, and not replicated in full. Replication of original content can decrease the author’s Google ranking. And a higher ranking (on any site) ain’t going to pay the bills!
That phone call felt so empowering. Yes, I could have let my wonderful editor deal with it, but I took ownership and I feel like I am singing Katy Perry’s Roar.
If it was a student or for-profit company who plagiarised my work, I would have been angry. But for a disability organisation doing this – an organisation advocating for the rights of people with disabilities – makes me sad. And I know that plagiarism happens for many writers, but in this case, it’s the principle that people with disabilities shouldn’t be expected to write for free.
This misappropriation of disabled writers’ work perpetuates the idea we should be grateful for exposure. It’s expecting us to work for free, and assuming we won’t speak up. It’s using lived experience freely for someone else’s gain. It’s taking advantage. The very thing that a disability organisation helps protect people from.
Arts Hub has a great list of things you should know about Australian copyright.